It can be very helpful to understand the difference between emotions and feelings, in order to have greater clarity about what emotional experiences you want to empower in your life.
Feelings occur as actual sensations in the body or energy field, whereas emotions are what we experience once we attach a label to the feeling. Oftentimes, pain or sadness can be felt as an aching or dull sensation in the body, while fear, anger, or jealousy can be felt as a rush of energy moving up the body. When you remove the labels of “pain, heaviness, sadness, fear, or anger,” however, these experiences remain neutral, and simply exist as sensations being experienced within you. It is only once the mind attaches a concept to what you are feeling that it begins to take the form of an emotional reaction. If you remain neutral to what you are feeling, just observing whatever is happening in your body or energy field, emotional reactivity does not exist.
It is in this way that emotionality and the ego are deeply intertwined. One of the ego’s main functions is to prevent you from actually feeling what is going on inside of your body or energy field, and emotional reactivity serves this purpose. When you become angry, you are not actually in touch with the pain that you feel inside, but rather, the unconscious mind is covering it over by creating a strong negative reaction. Throughout the history of humanity, this mechanism of the ego has served the purpose of ensuring the survival of the individual. A hunter or warrior pausing to feel sadness or pain would undoubtedly leave themselves vulnerable to attack from a predator or an enemy. It is quite common to see people become angry with one another (usually unconsciously) in order to push the other person away, so that their true feelings of pain or sadness will not be exposed.
An Outdated Program For Survival
But this ego mechanism no longer ensures our survival. In fact, it is now threatening our survival. When you don’t allow yourself to feel what is going on within you, but instead allow the ego to continue repressing your feelings through emotional reactivity, you are keeping yourself in an emotional prison. And over time this self repression will likely manifest as a sense of numbness, anxiety, depression, and feeling disconnected from life around you. It is through our feelings that we are able to accurately receive the energy of others, and to have the awareness to express our energy consciously to life around us.
In modern times, this ego survival mechanism has caused some people to cover over their own feelings so deeply, that they have become almost completely callous to what is going on inside of themselves and the feelings of others. Because of this, their actions of greed and manipulation have wreaked havoc on the environment and caused immeasurable suffering for other forms of life. We see evidence of this in the way that individuals, corporations, and governments have caused so much harm in the world without seeming to feel the effects their actions have on other forms of life or the environment.
Creating Space Around Emotions
Creating space between what you are feeling, and your thoughts and reactions about what you are feeling (emotions), begins the process of becoming free from emotional reactivity. This will begin dissolving the unconscious patterns of creating emotional states that cause suffering for yourself and others. Coming back to your breath or to your Spiritual Heart will harmonize your energy back to a peaceful state. As you master non-reaction, you will notice that drama and conflict dissolve from your life. In the absence of negative emotional reactivity, the experience of creating emotions becomes a conscious practice, where you allow for positive emotions to be created through you, while no longer fueling negative emotions with your energy.
It is also helpful to let go of the idea of positive and negative feelings. I have found that sadness and grief, for instance, can feel very healthy, and are necessary to experience from time to time in order to maintain balance within my life. Sadness felt at the loss of a loved one or the ending of a relationship is a natural part of the cycles of life. As we learn to stay present with our feelings, these experiences add to the richness and depth that we feel in our lives. It is only once the mind interprets these feeling as negative that it causes suffering. When the pain of sadness turns to anger, jealousy, resentment, anxiety, or depression, does it then cause suffering for you and others around you. And the only way that the pain of sadness could turn into a negative emotion is if you label it as a negative experience, and then react against it. Instead, choose to remain neutral and in a state of complete acceptance of what you are feeling. Over time, this will dissolve emotional patterns of the ego, a technique which Eckhart Tolle often references.
The Power of Acceptance
The state of allowance and acceptance is one of the greatest spiritual tools for transformation. As soon as you let go and allow for whatever is, it is impossible for negativity to persist. It may take some investigation, however, to see what you are still holding onto that is causing suffering. A good reminder for times when negativity arises, is that the circumstances of life never cause you to suffer, but rather it is the unconscious reactions to life that create negativity and suffering. Notice what thoughts precede a moment of suffering, and pay attention to how the thoughts change your perceptions of life moment by moment. As soon as you have the thought, “this is a problem,” you immediately feel the reality of that “problem” in your experience. Our thoughts are so powerful, that whatever we tell ourselves about reality, begins to shape and define our experience of reality in that moment. So let go of the conditioned response you have been taught are “normal” reactions to life, and instead, let positivity and peace be your guiding compass.